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B-17 Search 1998
The Salvage

Thursday, August 26, 2004

The team is up early for breakfast and then gears up for the first dive of the day.  The last lift bag is repositioned and secured to the nacelle of number 2 engine and the rigging and air lines rechecked.  Air is introduced to the lift system and the nose of the aircraft rises while the after end of the fuselage disappears below the surface.

The aircraft is at a different attitude now with the end of the fuselage just barely underwater.  The river current catches hold of the B-17 as it is now completely clear of the river bottom and swings the aircraft so that it is facing shore.  The current is strong and it drags both the aircraft and the attached support boat until the two 100 pound kedge anchors dig deeper into the river bottom and fetch up secure.

With an unknown loading of river silt and water in the fuel tanks the identification of the center of gravity and the center of buoyancy is complex.  The team is able to start removing and relocating some of the lift bags to work on getting the aircraft level and higher out of the water. 

Addition of another small lift bag to the after end of the fuselage and a few hundred pounds of air raised the fuselage and dunked the cockpit and props back underwater.  A lift bag was then placed under the nose and air sent into all the left bags.  This configuration brought all of the aircraft to the surface.

With the aircraft on the surface we could begin to lighten the load by pumping all the water out of the fuel tanks, starting with the outboard Tokyo tanks and working into the main tanks.  Discharging 2,780 gallons of water or over 11 tons.

Gordy started work on modifying the rigging of the lift bags converting them from a recovery system to a raft that would allow us to tow the B-17 over 80 miles down stream. 

We presently had six of the 7,500 pound lift bags in place with two additional ones to add.  There were also two 5,000 pound and two 2,000 pound lift bags still to placed to give us maximum buoyancy, stability and to lift the aircraft as high in the water as possible.

Joey, Don and Hamilton got aboard to inspect the condition of the aircraft as well as assist with the pumping of the water and the rigging.


During the course of the day the current continued to work on the aircraft and finally swung it back into its initial position, facing upstream. As the day drew to a close everyone on the expedition was excited and in definite high spirits.  We had recovered the B-17 from the riverbed.  Now we had to get ready for the river trip and hope for the break in the weather that would allow us to go.

Evening found the waters of the part of the river known as “Bomber Run” almost mirror smooth, with a B-17 floating on the surface at anchor.

Mark and Gary Jr. went out and placed some chemical stick lights on the wing tips and fuselage to mark the plane for the anchor watch.

Don and Gary Sr. started a fire and settled in for another long night of keeping watch on the aircraft.

Throughout the night other members of the team would awaken a venture down to take a look at the B-17 as well as check in with Don and Gary.  At one point the heavens opened up and rain poured down heavily.  Don and Gary maintained their fire, watch and kept as dry as possible under a plastic tarp.